OKINAWA CITY — Fourteen Americans from Kadena Air Base tried their hand at creating Ka-sa Muuchi, or Okinawan rice cakes, on Wednesday at Okinawa City’s Working Women’s Community Center.

Muuchi Day, a day set aside to make muuchi, traditionally is on Dec. 8 of the 13-month lunar calendar, which falls on Monday this year. Muuchi is made of rice flour mixed with sugar and other ingredients such as pumpkin or purple sweet potatoes, then wrapped with sannin or shell ginger leaves, which add a cinnamon-like flavor. Okinawan people traditionally have believed that eating the rice cakes on Ka-sa Muuchi wards off evil.

On Wednesday, Keiko Asato, a licensed dietitian from Okinawa City, showed the Americans how to assemble a classic muuchi. She mixed rice flour with powdered purple sweet potato, sugar and water. After adding water and kneading the dough, she let her American cooking students touch it to feel the consistency.

“It’s like sugar cookie dough,” said Sue Bolbecker, an Air Force servicemember’s wife.

“This is the second year we have offered the muuchi cooking class,” Asato said. The event was sponsored by the Okinawa City Economic and Cultural Exchange Promotion Council, working with the 18th Wing Public Affairs office.

“It is our great joy to see American people enjoying our tradition and culture,” Asato said.

For Wednesday’s class, Asato and another dietitian prepared five different flavors of ka-sa muuchi: brown sugar, pumpkin, purple sweet potato, cocoa and coffee, a special flavor just for the Americans.

Holly Barclay, also an Air Force servicemember’s wife, said she joined in the class because she likes traditional Japanese rice cakes, or mochi.

“I had daifuku (a type of mochi) in Yokohama for the first time,” she said.

Her first encounter with a strawberry-filled sweet rice cake cemented her passion for mochi, she said, adding, her two children also love mochi.

Bridgette Williams, who’s been on Okinawa for just eight months, had yet to try rice cakes.

“This is the first time trying muuchi,” she said as she kneaded the dough.

After the dough was ready, it was wrapped in sannin leaves. Then about 200 palm-sized, oval-shaped dough cakes, carefully encased in the leaves, were placed in steamers. Soon the cooking room was filled with savory aromas.

After the cakes steamed for about half an hour, Williams tried one — and said she liked it very much.

“I will make them for my family today,” she said.

Photos by Chiyomi Sumida/Stars and Stripes

Keiko Asato, an Okinawa dietician, demonstrates how to make muuchi to members of an American cooking class Wednesday.

Sue Bolbecker, left, helps Holly Barclay wrap muuchi with a sannin leaf during a Ka-sa Muuchi cooking class held Wednesday at the Working Women’s Community Center in Okinawa City.

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